Advocacy Without Destruction

Innovative legal advocacy

As we approach the end of the year and the end of a decade, I, like many of you, reflect on my career – my accomplishments and my future goals. I review what went well and where I can improve.  We, in this learned profession, are certainly blessed, and yet, a growing number of us are also incredibly stressed. 

A 2016 survey of nearly 13,000 practicing lawyers, conducted by the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP) and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, found that between 21 and 36 percent qualified as problem drinkers, almost 28 percent battled some level of depression, and 19 percent suffered from anxiety. The results also revealed that attorneys in their first 10 years of practice, particularly those at private firms, experienced the highest rates of alcohol abuse and depression. We regularly hear the life-shattering news that a fellow member of the bar has taken his own life. 

Malcolm Gladwell would call it a tipping point. The National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being calls it a crossroads.  Regardless of the semantics, the imperative is the same: “we must act now.” Our well-being, our lives, and the lives that each of our lives touch, depend on it. 

What if there were a different way to practice law? What if there were a different advocacy style that zealously represented our clients’ respective interests without detracting so thoroughly from our own well-being? What if lawyers were not plagued by the fire drill induced by an ex-parte TRO or preliminary injunction hearing? What if lawyers worked together to help their clients solve their legal problems rather than playing hide the ball? What if lawyers attacked the problems instead of each other? If we engaged in a different advocacy style, I suspect the survey results would not be so bleak.

Civil collaborative law is a way of advocating without destroying either the parties or the lawyers involved in resolving the conflict. The collaborative law process is client-centered and, in the appropriate case, can lead to a quicker, more cost-effective, and longer lasting resolution. Once the parties choose the collaborative law process, rather than traditional litigation, they enter into an agreement memorializing the different rules of this engagement, namely the full and voluntary exchange of relevant documents and information, and a pledge to communicate honestly with and listen carefully to each other. Imagine a dispute about a trust accounting being resolved in a matter of months instead of years. Imagine a dissolution of a closely held family business being accomplished in a way that leant itself to a truly enjoyable Christmas meal with all the family members at the table. Imagine using your law degree to help clients implement creative solutions that no judge has the authority to decree, rather than slogging through the Business Court Rules to ensure you are using the correct font in your brief.    

Civil collaborative law offers meaning and purpose to jaded and skeptical litigators. The pioneers of this form of advocacy have formed the North Carolina Civil Collaborative Law Association, a non-profit organization, which serves as a resource for lawyers and the public about the numerous advantages of the collaborative law process. 

Join me at the upcoming Collaborative Practice Training continuing legal education (CLE) opportunity at the North Carolina Bar Center on January 14 and January 15, 2020 to not only hone your negotiation and advocacy skills but also improve your personal well-being.

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Colleen Byers

Colleen L. Byers

Colleen Byers concentrates her practice in the areas of guardianship, trust, estate and fiduciary litigation, employment matters, and alternative dispute resolution.
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